Before the show & 2020k Forever on the Y-list
As my friend/photographer for the evening Amanda and myself arrived at Altar Bar on August 12th to watch the co-headlining Nico Vega and Crash Kings show, the attendees were inside sipping on some sunshine (read: alcohol) and we were stranded at the entrance due to a miscommunication between entrance permissions and press information.
“Do you know who I am?” I shamelessly shouted at a venue employee.”I’m the prestigious 2020k…here to watch the show!” He shook, but did not budge. Weird, right? Shouldn’t he know who I am?
There’s a running joke amongst my circle of friends that I’m forever on the Y-list. Before, I was on the Z-list, but now that I have an in real life hater (which is a weird story I won’t bore you with) and a couple of you have wonderfully taken the time to listen to my EP (and leave really nice comments that I’m greatly appreciative of), so it was an intense debate between all of them to bump my status up to Y. Why not just put me on the X-list, you ask? Too pornstary.
So, here I sit on the Y-list. That guy should’ve known who I am, right?! Z for Zebra, Y for “Y don’t you know who I am!”
I am embellishing and deeply digressing. I didn’t say any of the above dialogs to anyone, but there really was confusion. Eventually, after some contacts, Mike from Crash Kings came to confusingly assist my clearance and the issue was resolved. (Thanks, Mike!)
Moral of the story: we got inside, grabbed some sunshine (read: drinks), and laughed at the ongoing Y-list running joke while waiting for the bands to take center stage!
The Winter Brave & Daily Grind
The Winter Brave already have something going for them. During an Aske Me Anything segment on Reddit, a roommate of someone in the band asked Dave Grohl to check out the music. His response was just six words, “We just blasted it in 606!” and the entire internet flocked to their Soundcloud profile. With this seal of approval, Winter Brave gained a small following in which they’re humble for, and found their way opening for this co-headlining show.
Lead singer Jake Scarpino is adorable, as is the interaction between him and band mates Sam Scarpino and Chris Beaulieu. In fact, their chemistry is of epic proportions that is not even able to be described in words; you simply need to see them to believe it. Scarpino’s smile is as infectious as the band’s set, which included a deliciously funked out cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”. [The Winter Brave's Facebook]
Following Winter Brave, a second opener called Daily Grind played a small set. Their legion of fans and friends made their way closer to the stage to give a warm welcome to the bunch, providing a blanket of enthusiasm and comfort. Plagued with a misplaced mic next to a guitar amp for the first half of a song, once this issue was fixed, it excited the sound to full potential and allowed the thrill of open ended pieces of music and a notable progressive instrumental to be embellished. [Daily Grind's Facebook]
The start to Nico Vega’s set is as technological as it is talented and intense.
Lead singer Aja Volkman steps barefoot onto the stage, fronts herself up to the microphone, and begins high emotions in the form of a cappella calls. While her vocals are wonderful on their own, the songstress uses a looper, attached to the stand, to add layers that build and build until the room is packed with swooping soundwaves of which seemingly harmonize immaculately with each other. In this moment, the audience is silent; rightfully captured by the artistry.
Jamila Weaver, Dan Epand, and Rich Koehler take to the stage, with Koehler sporting an awesome Pittsburgh Steelers tank top. The city, as a whole, takes immense pride in their sports teams, as does the world (there are Steelers bars in Japan and Iraq). The following is immense, so to see support in the form of attire at a show is nothing new and always respected (see Gaga getting terrible with us back in 2010).
The band began tearing through their discography in a way that brings more dimension to their music than the album releases. This is not to say the records aren’t up to par; they are, but the live experience Nico Vega takes the audience through is of potent passion. Bjork-like in vocal phrasing and an optimistic version of Fiona Apple‘s stage presence, Aja assaults Nico Vega’s collection of songs with a clean cut to the jugular, while spreading joy amongst the hard hitting sonics the rest of the band provides.
You can also see the fun these four have. During “Lightning”, Aja touched Koehler and the two laughed as the guitarist mouthed “don’t touch me” back to her. Later, the two explained that she’d shocked him four times with static electricity! The two found irony in the fact that the next line after the fourth incident was “like some electric charge unbound in static on the pavement.“
Before the shocks, Aja jokingly asked if the television screens above the bar could be turned off because she kept getting distracted. “Someone I am very close to keeps appearing on the screen,” she light heartedly stated, with a smile. Who kept popping up? Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons (the two are married). The screens went black.
Nico Vega’s political and best known track, “Beast” ended out the set in the alarmingly combative method that portrays the song’s protest-USA subject matter perfectly. “Stand tall for the people of America! Stand tall for the man next door! We are free in the land of America, we ain’t goin’ down like this. C’mon now!” Harsh power enraptured this piece, and the group allied together as a means to create one final push of earnest artistry, honest lyricism, and finalized anger before clearing the way for co-headliner Crash Kings to take over.
Then, it ended. Some of the crowd began to fizzle out as it seemingly always does in a co-headliner show for some reason (I distinctly remember Jane’s Addiction suffering this plague during their 2009 NINJA tour, co-headlining with Nine Inch Nails), but a strong set of eager fans awaited the final piece of this night to begin. Instead of being affected negatively by this, a more intimate setting ensued.
(PS, I’m forever loving this picture of Rich Koehler).
The newly independent band Crash Kings mentioned they had physical copies of their new record Dark of the Daylight exclusively at their merchandise booth. It’s true, and it’s a cause worth supporting as the band left their major label, due to complications, to release this record. Going independent after having a successful hit with “Mountain Man” is ballsy. Having a Kickstarter to raise funds for the new record also takes courage, but they did both of these things, massively succeeded, and still push their own envelopes by choosing to rock out without an electric guitar.
No electric guitar? Nope! You won’t find one in this band. Did we mention Crash Kings have balls?
Instead, lead singer Antonio Beliveau takes his eccentric vocals (half Jack White sounding, half Jamiroquai inspired) on stage and pairs them with not only with a synthesizer, but a Hohner clavinet that is modified with the most badass whammy bar to ever meet a keyboard. The end result in the Crash Kings live show is that Beliveau is off to the side of the stage, surrounded by gear, jamming out in an eclectic realm that balances modern technology and organic warmth.
What happens during a Crash Kings show is magical.
While not as playful as the previous bands on the bill, the trio is strictly down to business and rightfully so. Their songs may seem light, fluffy at times, and minimal, but the intricacies that allow these song structure and melodically driven songs to flourish are plentiful. Mike Beliveau’s bass playing is extremely pertinent to this band and the professional dedication shown through his facial expression and body language shows a conscientiousness, but technical vigor that demonstrates he and the Kings aren’t joking around with their craft.
Most of the audience’s enthusiasm came from a sub-section of the venue – the under 21 section.
Altar Bar is small, and since there is a bar area a section is roped off to accompany the under age attendees, but it’s only an eighth of the floor space is allotted for them. Throughout the night, Antonio would often glance over at the bunch and smile. At one point, he dedicated a song to a few fans in the area because of the delightful vibe that was bantering between fan and band.
The show itself, not only Crash Kings, but the three bands before them was a show in which the audience members fed the band and the band fed just as much back. This is something refreshing, something of which doesn’t happen too much at the big shows.
Universally known amongst the base of individuals at the show, “Mountain Man” and “1985” received the most praise and interaction.
Toward the end of the night, the band mentioned that they were on a curfew at the show, so they needed to improvise for the encore. They jammed for a few seconds, chalked it up to being them leaving the stage, and went into the ending tracks. “Saving Grace” concluded the set and the trio made their exit.
As with most shows, I made my way with Amanda to Jekyll and Hyde in the Southside of Pittsburgh where we had a few spooky drinks, reflected on the night, and came to the conclusion that what we saw was, in lieu of drunken speech and lack of better adjectives, amazing, awesome, and cool.
All four acts had extreme amounts of musicianship. Friendly pop/rock tunes, serious moments, technical skill, and interaction with the crowd bombarded the evening in a way of closeness that thrives upon the independent scene, but not normally affiliated with most shows. The night was a night of leisure, of celebration between bands, of a delightful summer sunset in Pittsburgh.